Two Hairy Brothers 6: Guardian Angels

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory,
Herefordshire

1 October, 2020

Dear Cousin Dunc,

I trust you are very cheery up there in Beyond. It’s a long time since we heard from you, and I must admit I miss you, especially now I’m becoming a bit old and creaky. Twelve last birthday, so no longer a young sprog!

Anyway, I have a theological question for you. What is an angel, and what are these Guardian Angels They are celebrating on 2 October? They seem to think these angel-types stick to Them through thick and thin, but I thought that was our job. Can you enlighten me, please?

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig xx

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond

2 October 2020

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

You’ll always be a young sprog in my eyes, no matter that your ginger is now streaked with grey, but I see you have learned some gravitas since we last corresponded. A theological question! That’s one for the books, I must say. I’ll do my best to reply.

There are quite a lot of angels in Beyond so I went and had a chat with my chum Raphael. (He’s the one who accompanied Tobias and his dog to Media, so he’s more dog-aware than most and always saves me some special tit-bit from the heavenly banquet to snack on between meals.) He said that the big yellow catechism book They keep in the library is a good place to start.

I had to overcome my natural reluctance to have anything to do with felines, but, apparently, ‘catechism’ is a Greek word that has nothing to do with cats so can be safely read by the likes of you and me.

I began at paragraph 325, which says God created everything, seen and unseen, and says quite a lot about angels, but stopped at paragraph 343 which says that man is the summit of God’s creation. Not entirely sure about that, but I let it pass.

Get this, though:

329 St Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.'” With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word”.

330 As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness.

Of course, some of them are too good-looking for their own good and think far too much of themselves. Look at the One Down Below and what happened to him! A warning to us all about vanity, even if we are the handsomest dudes on the block.

Anyway, there’s much more of the same, about how the angels are mighty spirits, messengers of God, singing God’s praises and intimately involved in the life of the Church. St Basil is quoted, ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life’. That’s the role of the Guardian Angel, but I noticed the Church has never defined that as an article of faith. We just accept it as the ‘mind of the Church’. St Jerome, who was regrettably more of a Big Cat man than a Dog man put it this way: ‘How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it. (Comm. in Matt., xviii, lib. II).

You and I probably agree that we share that guardianship role with angels but we have to accept that not everyone recognizes the canine contribution to the economy of salvation, not even some Human Beans. A pity, rather. It would transform their view of the world and make them much nicer.

I was looking down at the world from Beyond and thought to myself how busy all the angels must be, especially the Guardian Angels. There is such a lot of wrongness going on, and Human Beans being thoroughly nasty to one another. St Thomas, who should have been more of a Dog man, given that he was a Domini canis, said that only the lowest orders of angels were sent to guard Human Beans (Summa Theologica I:113:4). That’s one for their pride, isn’t it?

Mind you, if what St Thomas says is true, it means what we dogs do is very important.  We have to teach Human Beans so many things — how to be loving, uncomplaining, endlessly forgiving. We can teach them how to adore Him by gazing and gazing with eyes like melting chocolate buttons, and we can use our pester-power for the good of others. Human Beans aren’t blessed with four paws and a big nose, but they can still learn how to be more dog. I did my best with Them, and I’m pleased to see that you continue my work.

Look after Them until we’re all together in Beyond. They’ll thank you one day and recognize your true stature as a servant of the Most High. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if we and our kind aren’t angels in disguise, don’t you?

Best woofs,

Bro Duncan xx

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Universal and Local: Being Catholic in England

Sometimes being a Catholic in England can feel a little weird. We may belong to the largest Church in the world, but here we are a minority. Occasionally we may be reminded of that fact in no uncertain terms. We are not part of the Establishment, and although we have a few ‘old families’ among our number, many assume that if we have a British surname we are of Irish extraction. If our surname is Italian or Polish, that merely confirms the suspicion of our being alien! Our churches, by and large, reflect their origins as Mass centres, built to house the largest number of people as cheaply as possible. When people do come across architectural gems or learned clergy or religious, it seems to surprise them. Catholicism is still often thought of in terms of repository art, overbearing and ill-educated clergy and, sadly nowadays, the abuse of children. Catholic laity seem not to be thought of at all, unless it be in connection with protests outside abortion clinics or attempts to raise awareness of creeping euthanasia policies and such-like. Personally, I think the fact that Catholic laity are so identified with pro-life advocacy is one of the glories of the Church; so, too, is the fact that one rarely goes into a Catholic church and does not see someone praying quietly in a corner. We may not articulate our faith with the clarity and precision of the professional theologian, but we do our best to live it. Part and parcel of that faith is our low-key devotion to the saints.

Today the Universal Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels (see earlier posts, eg https://www.ibenedictines.org/2014/10/02/are-guardian-angels-redundant/) but here in Herefordshire we celebrate the feast of St Thomas de Cantilupe, also known as St Thomas of Hereford, our local saint and, happily, one whom Christians of all denominations can look to as he lived and died before the Reformation. That highlights for me an important aspect of Catholicism. Being part of the Universal Church does not do away with the local and particular. Thomas was what might be called today a Buckinghamshire boy who made good: educated at Oxford, Paris, and Orleans, he taught canon law at Oxford, becoming Chancellor of the University in 1261. His subsequent career is best described as ‘varied’. There were times when he found it opportune to spend a little time abroad. He sided with Simon de Montfort and the baronial party which was slightly awkward as he was Chancellor of England at the time. When he became bishop of Hereford (a duty he seems to have fulfilled with zeal and devotion), he clashed with the archbishop of Canterbury, John Peckham, and was excommunicated. Thomas went to Rome to resolve the matter and died near Orvieto in 1282. His body was brought back to Hereford for burial and in 1320 he was canonised. Today, one can go and kneel at his shrine in the cathedral and pray before a small relic of the saint given by the archbishop of Westminster. Thomas will be remembered in the Office and in the Mass, but it will be without fanfare or exuberance because he is one of us. He is not merely the Buckinghamshire boy made good; he is the ordinary English Catholic made good — what we all hope to become. May his prayers and the prayers of our Holy Guardian Angels assist us.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Chumminess and Our Guardian Angel

Attitudes to the feast of our Holy Guardian Angels can be quite revealing of how we approach the holy. Some people are clearly embarrassed by the very idea. For them, angels are chubby little putti, charming adornments to Rococo ceilings, but not to be taken seriously. We have outgrown all that, surely?  For others, angels are a constant presence — chums in the original sense of the word—sent to guide and guard us through life’s troubles. If a little sentimentality mingles with our devotion, what’s wrong with that? And then there are those who are awed by these mighty spirits sent to serve, these messengers of God whose dwelling is fire and flame. Their presence with us is a sign of the holy and we tremble at the thought. Siegfried Sassoon once wrote to D. Felicitas Corrigan that he had seen an angel. She replied very crisply that she did not think an angel of God could be so circumscribed as his description suggested. (I suspect D. Felicitas knew something about angels; she certainly had the measure of Sassoon!)

Have you ever stopped to consider the presence of angels all around you? St Benedict refers to their constantly reporting our deeds to God as they make their way up and down the ladder between earth and heaven Jacob saw in his vision. It is an arresting thought. We are more and more aware of State surveillance, of the long reach of the internet into our private lives, but we have forgotten that everything about us is known to God. Nothing escapes His merciful eye. The problem for most of us is how to live with that knowledge without being either crushed by it or making it into some kind of bugbear. You might try asking the prayers of your guardian angel to help you.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail